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Meeting: concern plans will demonise law-abiding Muslims

07-09-2005

Reading Evening Post:

ISLAMIC representatives from around Reading have met with town politicians amid fears over new anti-terror laws.

Reading West MP Martin Salter and Reading Borough Council leader David Sutton met around 50 Muslims on Friday to gauge views on measures announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair last month.

Mr Blair’s 12-point proposal is due to be discussed when the next Parliamentary session begins next month.

The announcement included a proposal to ban hardline Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahir, which insists its political practices are non-violent.

But Mr Salter, who called the meeting, said banning the group could sever ties even further between Muslims and the rest of the community.

He said: “There was a free and frank exchange of views and although it would be wrong to suggest that all Muslims think as one voice, it is fair to say there is some concern that the published
proposals could over-demonise respectful, law-abiding Muslims.

“There was a feeling that the proposals to bring forward an accreditation system for Imams was fraught with problems and it would be unfair to single out one religion over another. If we’re not careful we’re going to make extremists groups more attractive to youngsters.

“I found the meeting extremely useful and it means when Parliament goes back I have at least had an opportunity to take the temperature of Reading Muslims in light of these controversial proposals.

“I will be urging the Government to proceed with extreme caution before they start putting in bans.”

Ejaz Elahi, general secretary of Reading’s Pakistan Community Centre, agreed with Mr Salter that making Hizb ut-Tahir illegal would only make the group stronger. He said: The general consensus was that we should not go along the lines of banning the Hizb ut-Tahir because we don’t want them to go underground.

“We think the way forward is to confront them and have an open debate. There was also some opinion they are not as extreme as they used to be.

“I don’t think there is a significant interest [in Hizb ut-Tahir] in Reading and those who are involved you can talk with.

“Muslims are also on the receiving end of terrorism and therefore we should confront it as one whole community.

“The meeting turned out to be very useful and people were free to say what they liked.

“Reading must be proud of having very good community relations and we appreciate that as a community.

“We’re all working as one voice.”

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